Thousands oppose school closure plan
Supinda na Mahachai,
The Nation on Sunday
BANGKOK: -- School heads and networks to meet Phongthep to voice concern; minister wants communities to discuss plan
More than 10,000 people have expressed their opposition in an online
petition to the Education Ministry's plan to close and merge low-quality
Small school networks have submitted their names through www.change.org,
calling for a meeting with Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana on
Wednesday to voice opposition and demand a halt to his policy on school
And on Thursday, they will discuss the issue with a Senate sub-committee on education.
The small school closures plan has been criticised widely on social
media for the past few days and is spiralling into a political squabble,
widening polarisation among people who support the Pheu Thai-led
administration and government critics.
Democrat Party MPs have also jumped on the bandwagon, expressing opposition to the policy.
Phongthep insisted yesterday his policy aimed to upgrade the quality of
education and that it would not affect stakeholders badly.
Community or small school networks and the Thai alternative education
council association told a press conference yesterday they had emailed
the names of 11,693 people opposed to the plan to the minister. They are
due to meet him on Wednesday to discuss the issue and voice their
Association secretary general Chatchawan Thongdeelert said they would
meet Phongthep to say they want him to listen directly to the heads of
small schools. They will then meet the sub-committee on Thursday to
discuss the issue.
They want the ministry to allow communities and other stake-holders to
participate in drawing up the criteria under which schools should be
closed and merged. Educational area offices should not be the only
agencies being allowed to make a decision, he said.
Somboon Rimthao, chairman of the society, said that as the ministry
would have to buy school vans to transport pupils to other schools
outside their communities, more funds would be provided. They were also
worried that students might not be safe and there was no guarantee that
parents would not have to shoulder travelling fees in the long run.
"We propose for the government to allow small schools across the country
to be legal entities (that can manage their business and legal matters
independently). They should be turned into community schools that can
provide formal, information and non-formal education to students,
parents and residents in communities," he said.
"A community school development fund should be established, and schools
allocated Bt200,000 each per year. Doing this, we should save more
budget than buying the vans," Somboon said.
They also called on the ministry to allocate budget and provide funds
according to number of households in each community - one teacher per 15
households. A commission on community schools and alternative education
should be set up in the ministry to oversee this group of schools.
Phongthep said the ministry would close poor-quality schools with fewer
than 60 students each then merge them with higher quality schools
Teachers at schools that are closed and merged would have to continue
teaching. They would not be affected, he said yesterday during the
"Yingluck Government Meets the People" TV programme.
He also insisted that small schools with good achievements or those
located in mountainous areas or on islands would not be closed and
3,000 schools already merged
Over the past 20 years, about 3,000 schools had been merged, the minister said.
"It is not only an instruction from the ministry to close and merge, but
relevant officials have to listen to and talk with school directors and
local people before making a decision. If merging is likely to bring
about better results, they should go ahead. We haven't targeted how many
schools will be closed and merged," Phongthep said.
"The policy focuses on upgrading education quality rather than considering a cut in budget
Educational administrators in the southern province of Satun are among those preparing to close and merge some small schools.
Pilot schools to be merged will be Ban Pak Ping and Ko Ta schools after
administrators explain the reasons to locals and parents. A total of 63
schools have less than 60 students each in Satun.
Many previous governments have come up with the idea of closing and
merging small schools, but were unable to put the idea into practice.
However, some areas have decided to do that. Some found success in
improving educational quality, while others did not.
-- The Nation 2013-05-12